Congregation’s 10th Birthday
At the ELCE synod in 2003, the Suffolk Mission of Resurrection Cambridge was welcomed as a congregation in its own right. This followed a five year process from the very first Lutheran service at RAF Feltwell with Chaplain Paul Sherouse, through an eighteen month vacancy during which I was Chairman, and Pastors Reg Quirk and Jeff Leininger from Cambridge covered services and confirmation classes to the calling of Pastor George from Australia, and our securing of this building as our permanent off base home.
Today, we come together to rejoice over the fact that for 10 years, the Lord has continued to preserve this little flock known as Ascension Lutheran Church. Blessed by God’s grace, we have continually built upon God’s love as we have received from Him the great gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation that have come to us through His Word and Sacraments. And having been “called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified” by His Spirit, we have also been sent out into the world around us to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.
We give thanks to God today for calling us to be His people in this place who have been blessed with faith in Christ and the privilege of sharing the message of His love and grace with the world around us. We look back over the past ten years with joy, with gratitude, and with thanksgiving for all that God has accomplished through us. And as we enter the eleventh Year of ministry as Ascension Congregation, we look forward with hope to all that the Lord has planned for us still to accomplish in His Name.
As we look forward as a congregation, we might well ask ourselves, “What is it that we need to be doing?” In many ways, even though the world is changing around us, we and the Church are always to be about doing the “same old thing”. Since Jesus first gave His command to His disciples and to all who came after them to go and proclaim, teach, make disciples, and baptize in His Name, the job to which we as Christians are called has not changed. As human beings in a fallen world, we do however need to be reminded of the task before us, and we need the constant encouragement of our Lord Jesus Christ to get on with it.
Building upon our past history here at Ascension and as we look forward to the future, we can summarize our life and work together as a congregation in three short phrases: “Keeping the Faith, Living the Faith, Sharing the Faith”. These three ideas seem basic and simple enough, and with good reason, because these three things are what the Church of Jesus Christ is ever and always to be all about.
In our text, we hear today the familiar story of Jesus coming to Jericho and meeting the tax collector, Zacchaeus. Yet, hearing these words today, what, if anything, does this story about the “little man” of Jericho have to do with recalling the foundation of a Christian congregation? Well, as I thought about the themes we are called to remember in “being the Church”, we see all of these things quite clearly in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus.
So first let’s look at, “Keeping the Faith”. Often, when people use this phrase, they are talking about encouraging someone to do something for him or herself. Especially in times of trouble over life’s changes and chances, we tell people to “Keep the faith”, that is to say “Keep on believing”, especially in the idea that things will get better as you work through them. Yet, within our lives lived by faith in Jesus Christ, “Keeping the Faith” is not our work, but it is a work that is begun and continued by God’s working through His Spirit in our lives.
When Jesus came to Jericho, Zacchaeus wanted to see Him. Now, part of this was probably inspired by Zacchaeus’ own natural curiosity about who this Jesus character was and what his message was all about. We could say that Zacchaeus was the one who went out that day seeking Jesus. But what we discover is that it was Jesus was the one who was seeking Zacchaeus. Calling to him up in the tree, Jesus made the invitation to Zacchaeus to be with Him, and joyfully Zacchaeus opened his home, family, and circle of friends to Him so that Jesus could come to be with them.
Jesus is the One who invites Himself into our lives. He is the One who places faith into our hearts as the Holy Spirit works in us the faith to believe the Word of Christ that has been proclaimed to us. And having received the Lord’s invitation to be with Him, the Lord continually feeds and nourishes us through His Word and Sacraments so that we can continually be strengthened in the faith that He has given to us.
As our Lord keeps the faith He has planted in us, He then uses the Holy Spirit to encourage us to “Live the Faith”.
Our faith is indeed a private, inward thing which is usually seen as something intimate between ourselves and God. And yet, at the very same time, faith is also a mighty, active thing that is living and active outside of ourselves as we show in word and deed that we do not live for ourselves alone, but for Christ who dwells within us.
In the eyes of many of his neighbours, Zacchaeus was a horrible, rotten, lying, cheat of a tax collector. And they were probably some of the nicer names that he was called. But what they failed to remember was that Zacchaeus was also one of them, a child of Abraham and a part of the people of Israel. Yet, because of his job, and probably because of his rejection and alienation by his own people, Zacchaeus didn’t “live the life” that was his as an Israelite. But, all of that changed when
Jesus came into his life and reminded him of the love and mercy of God that was his. From that day on, Zacchaeus’ life took a new course: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
We too find ourselves, like Zacchaeus, to have had our lives changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the message of Christ, we have been led to discover who we live for as well as the very reason we live. We live for Christ and in Christ. And having been shaped by His forgiving and saving love, we live to show through our life and conduct the Christ who lives within us. Called to be His forever, we seek to be always near Him and to be where He has promised to be, within and among His people, the Church, so that we can hear His Word, be renewed by His forgiveness given in Baptism and the word of Absolution, and be fed with His own living Body and blood. Here, in life lived together in and among the people of God, we are constantly being formed into being who we truly are: the dearly loved and forgiven children of God.
Yet, this life of faith that we live just doesn’t stop as we come together in this place as a holy people shaped by God and His Word of life. Our Faith is lived out by us not just on Sundays, but seven whole days where we live our lives of faith “out in the world.” As the people of God, we are called to “Share the Faith”. And this is something we do quite freely and easily among ourselves. But, when we look at our lives lived “out in the world”, do our lives in Christ “shine out brightly” for everyone to see?
It was one thing for Zacchaeus to make the promise that he made to Jesus within the walls of his home. But it would be completely another thing for him to do exactly what he said he would do and let everyone see him doing it. Luke doesn’t tell us whether or not Zacchaeus actually followed through on his promise to Jesus or not. Yet, as we have often seen in the Gospels, those who received Jesus and His message of grace and forgiveness always “followed through” on taking up the life that Jesus called on them to live. So, we can assume that Zacchaeus did what he had promised and that many in Jericho saw in him a changed man, a man who lived for the God who loved him.
As a people who have been touched and transformed by the love of God for us in Christ, we know how great and precious a thing our salvation and life with God is. Knowing this, we should also feel moved and indeed compelled to share this gift with others so that those who do not yet know of this life with God may also share in it as well.
So, compelled by the love of Christ, we seek to find ways to show that love. In word and deed we care for others so that those we meet see Christ in us. As far as we are able, we reach out and become the living body of Christ, being His face, His hands, His feet to go to those in need, reaching them with love and concern from the Lord Himself. And our care reaches not only bodies, but also souls, as we seek to share the Word of Life with them so that people may know the God who saves them in this life and the life to come.
“Keeping the Faith; Living the Faith; Sharing the Faith.” This is what we are called to do as God’s people. We thank the Lord that this is what we, here at Ascension have done. We ask the Lord’s forgiveness for the times when we have failed. And we pray the Lord’s guidance and strength that this is what we will do and what we will continue to do. Since the very earliest days of Ascension’s history, we have been a people blessed by God. May He continue to bless us and may we, by His mercy, be strengthened to be the blessing to the world that He has called us to be.
Thanks be to Christ!
- Luke 19:1 - 10